Thoughts on Kobe

Like so many other people all across the world, I was stunned when I learned about the horrible crash of the helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven other lives. Nine total lives were lost in the wreck and the ripples of this tragedy began to make their way literally throughout the whole world.

My own daughter texted a group of us to ask if we had heard. Sunday afternoon, relaxing after church & lunch, I began to search for news. Is it true? Can this be a real story? Hopefully this is just a bad case of misinformation. However, it didn’t take long to find that it was in fact true. Over the next hour, I watched news and details come in and my heart continued to sink.

The days that followed were difficult as close friends of Kobe began to share their reactions and memories of their time with Kobe. So many emotions shared by so many people who had been touched by his life in one way or another. There were many times when my eyes filled with tears as I watched and heard the pain others were experiencing.

The hardest emotional hit for me (a person obviously not friends with Kobe) was hearing his daughter was on the plane with him. I am a dad. I have a daughter. Seeing all the pics and videos of Kobe with his daughter just ripped at my heart. Knowing that his wife and three other daughters would be grieving and hurting so deeply was tough to think about.

So many athletes and people from the NBA, other sports as well, celebrities, public figures and random people who had interacted with Kobe in some way were sharing their thoughts and feelings. There was no shortage of proof that Kobe’s life had greatly impacted the lives of many people. Emotions were raw, heavy and real.

A beautiful part of it all was seeing just how many people bonded over their mutual respect and admiration of Kobe. His basketball prowess was one part, but the way he lived the rest of his life was celebrated to an even greater extent. Being a father and specifically a #girldad seemed to be one of Kobe’s most fulfilling roles.

Again, being a sports fan, a father and a #girldad had me often very emotional as I watched this all unfold. I truly felt for all those who were grieving and hurting so badly and I also felt some enjoyment seeing how much everyone seemingly cared about Kobe and his family.

However, being a person of faith, I couldn’t help wonder just how many people who were experiencing so much emotion over this loss of life actually had a grasp on what life after death means for us.

The truth is, all nine of those souls left this mortal world in an instant and found themselves in eternity. You might not believe in any kind of life after death, and I get that. Every person is free to believe what they will. But, I whole-heartedly believe in the Bible and the truths it contains. I believe that every human being will leave this earthly plane as their body ceases to live and either find an eternal reward or eternal suffering. I believe in a literal Heaven and hell as taught in the Bible.

The truth of the Gospel of Jesus is that he is the only way to heaven. He paid the debt for our sinfulness and secured for us an eternity in heaven with God. Our path, the only path, to an eternity in heaven is to believe in and accept Jesus Christ as Savior.

“there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved”  Acts 4:12

No matter how good a person is in his or her life, and no matter how well they are liked or loved, the bottom line concerning life after death is whether or not their faith has been put in Jesus. Salvation through Jesus Christ is based solely on the grace of God, not on anything we can accomplish ourselves.

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”  Romans 5:8

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast”  Ephesians 2:8-9

My prayer has been that Kobe, his daughter and the others left this physical world knowing Jesus as their Savior.

My other prayer is that this closeness many shared in grieving this tragedy will be used by God to bring many to a saving knowledge of Jesus.

Times like these are great opportunities for God to work in the hearts of people. When we stare death in the face, we are reminded just how fragile life truly is, we are primed to consider our own mortality. May you consider your own life and what would be your final resting place if you entered eternity in the blink of an eye.

Begin Again, Week 2

The first week of the New Year is gone. You’re now on day two of the second week of 2020. I don’t know about you, but there are moments where the brevity of time and the speed at which it moves catches me by surprise. Like today, when it seems that only a few days ago we were together with family for Thanksgiving. Truly, time does fly sometimes.

If you are a person who makes those resolution things every year, how’s it going? Too often we start something new or set out to make a change only to slip up in the first few days. Statistics show that close to 80% of people who break their resolutions do so within the first two months. When that happens, it’s rather easy to just give up. I don’t want you to do that. You don’t really want to do that either.

So here’s some encouragement for you. Start again. Don’t let discouragement take hold of your spirit and mind and convince yourself that once again you didn’t make it. Any change worth making will take you considerable time. Another statistic about making real change in your life says that it takes 60 days of consistency to see those changes become part of your lifestyle. See the connection? Two months to make real change, and most people who give up do so within the first two months.

Why not see this second week of 2020 as New Year’s 2.0? If you slipped up with all the excitement, food, relatives, parties, etc of the holidays, reboot today and get back at it.

Here are two verses I like when endeavoring to do something new or make a change.

“The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.”    – Proverb 13:4

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”   – Philippians 4:13

No matter what you’re facing, what you’re trying to learn or what you’re trying to accomplish, don’t give up! If you’re a follower of Jesus, remember that you are not alone. He has promised never to leave and never to forsake you. In your weakness, his strength is there for you.

Not only that, in the church (your community of fellow followers of Jesus) you have support. Get a friend or two and make them part of your process. Ask them to walk with you and keep you accountable along your path. They will encourage you when you have a tough day, when you don’t feel like continuing on. They will also celebrate with you when you hit a milestone and see real progress.

Lastly, if you do slip up (you have that coke that you have decided to cut out of your diet), don’t let it totally derail your journey. Acknowledge it, share it with your accountability partners, then get right back at it. Remember, nothing worth doing will come easy. It will take a considerable amount of effort and time. KEEP. AT. IT!

Hello, I’m Grateful

Not really. I’m not a naturally grateful person. I do typically try to be positive and look on the good, lovely, beautiful parts of life, but truthfully I struggle when things do not go the way I would like. My wife will confirm to my being grumpy, griping and stewing over why things have to be “this way”. It’s not attractive. I know that. Of course, knowing is half the battle…right?

Every year. Every single year we stop down for Thanksgiving. It’s always one of my favorite times of the year. We get together with family, enjoy some great food (that we seem to only have at this time of year for some reason) and usually toss the football around. We also watch the Dallas Cowboys game. That doesn’t always end well the last several years, but still we watch.

The most important part of this time of year, though, is the focus on being grateful. No, we do not actually need a special holiday or time of year to realize that we have lots and lots for which we should be thankful. Gratitude should be a constant staple for those who know and love God.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!           – 1 Chronicles 16:34

The forever part of that verse reminds me that I shouldn’t take a break from having a heart of gratitude and staying in the mindset and spirit of thanksgiving. God’s love is strong and everlasting, so my gratitude to him should be as well.

My prayer this year at Thanksgiving is summed up in Psalm 9:1-2

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

May your Thanksgiving be filled with joys and reminders of all God has done in your life. Even if you’re dealing with some difficult things at this time, push yourself to find the good and give God thanks!

Time for a Different Christmas?

We are bent toward enjoying the fun of Christmas while forgetting the Son of Christmas.

WANT A DIFFERENT CHRISTMAS?

Many look at Christmas with very fond, almost magical thoughts, and simply can not wait to celebrate every year. Putting up the tree and decorating the house are activities that truly fill their hearts with joy and excitement. Then there are others who have memories and thoughts of Christmas that are not so fondly held. Knowing that, let me share just a bit of what I think might help you have a different Christmas this year.

 

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Harper Family Christmas Tree 2017

Here’s how a Harper Family Christmas begins. Our family, once again, cut down our own Christmas tree and have it proudly displayed in the living room. Since 1992, my wife and I (joined by our kiddos in ’95 & ’99) have visited a tree farm to choose and cut down our tree of choice. We have visited many different tree farms, including a stretch of 10+ years to the same tree farm until it closed. The day normally involves some drive time, lots of walking, looking at tons of trees, cutting down the perfect tree, hauling it to the truck, and grabbing some lunch before heading home. I can’t imagine not doing this.

Above is our 26th hand-cut Christmas tree, and I couldn’t be any happier with it. When we sit in the house at night, and the lights from that tree are sparkling through the night air, I am in one of my most joyous places of all. The Christmas season really does bring and strengthen my joy!

However, over the last several years, our church has chosen and shared an Advent series for us to read. It’s a short, daily reading to help us focus on the true meaning of the season. The sermons during December go along with the reading and tie the whole season together well. Yet, I have never completed an entire Advent reading. I do look through it as we are deciding which one to use. I also pay special attention to the sections from which I will be preaching the particular sermon.

The problem is, I’ve missed the whole point. The purpose of reading through an Advent series is to help us slow down and focus on Jesus. The design of a small daily reading is to force us to sit down, get in the quiet, and be reminded of the beauty of Jesus…who is Christmas! It is definitely not busy work just to add another thing to our Christmas season. We’re prone to be so busy with shopping, cooking, entertaining, traveling, wrapping, etc. In all the busyness, our flesh is bent toward enjoying the fun of Christmas while forgetting the Son of Christmas.

The Dawning of Indestructible Joy is the Advent series our church is following this year. It is by John Piper, and I hope it will be a blessing to you and your family. Maybe, just maybe, it will be a whole different kind of Christmas in your life, your family and your home. May the peace, joy, and hope of Jesus brighten your Christmas!

Tebow Time & His Airness

It’s super late, actually just really early…1:15am to be exact. Yesterday, during his first professional baseball game, when he saw his first pitch, Tim Tebow promptly deposited it deep over the center field fence. Yes, he hit the very first pitch he saw out of the ballpark. Now, this fact has nothing to do with what Tim’s baseball career might or might not be. If you know anything about baseball, you know it is a difficult game, and it can take years and lots of hard work for a minor league player to make it to the big leagues. Then, it takes even more hard work to stay there.

So, again, I am not saying this proves that Tim Tebow is the next baseball phenom. However, that one swing, and all the hoopla around it did get me thinking. Truth is, I’ve been perturbed ever since Tim announced that he was going to tryout for major league scouts. What bothered me was the way so many people (experts and amateur fans) quickly and summarily dismissed Tim’s chances.

It reminded me of the Sports Illustrated cover that convinced me to never pick up another issue. bag-it-michael-si

In 1994, the magazine decided to sell a few more thousand copies by slamming  Michael Jordan for his attempt to play professional baseball. He cut off all communication with Sports Illustrated, even to this day.

Both of these men have something in common- they are winners. In their professional lives, whatever they’ve attempted, it seems something inside them wills them to win. Michael Jordan is considered the best basketball player of all time. Tim Tebow was one of the best college football players ever. He was the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy, and he lead the University of Florida to 2 national championships in three years. Even in his very short NFL career, Tim had a knack for getting his team the win.

tim-collage-for-blog

However, critics can’t seem to say enough bad things. Michael didn’t make it to the major leagues, and maybe Tim won’t either. But, it seems to me that every man and woman should be given the opportunity to try something without being lambasted and denounced as a failure before they even get started.

Honestly, some people are probably dissuaded from even attempting something new just because of the very real chance they’ll be trashed by others. This cynical approach to life, and seeming joy we take in bashing those who dare to stray from what we think they should do is a sad trend in our society. It makes me wonder just what would magazines, blogs, and sports talk shows be filled with, if negativity and cynicism didn’t exist.

So, let me give you this quick bit of encouragement…DO IT NOW! Whatever it is that you’ve been wanting to try, dying to see if you can accomplish, hoping you could find the courage to try…just get up off your couch and get started.

As a believer and follower of God, I’m inspired and motivated by this verse in the Bible,

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.     -2 Corinthians 9:8

Whether you are coming from a foundation of faith in God or not, you will need inspiration. You will face cynicism, and you need to be able to shake loose the doubters and haters. Then, pick yourself up and get started. I am reminded of another story that challenges and inspires me ever year on May 21st. That day in 1982, a 21-year-old Cal Ripken, Jr. was inserted into the starting lineup by Baltimore manager Earl Weaver, where he would remain for the next 2,631 games. He played every single baseball game for the Orioles for more than 16 years.

The only way a story like that happens is by someone getting started. So, when the voices are telling you that you’re not good enough, and they say you can’t do it, that you’ll fail if you try, that’s when you will be faced with a decision- go forward or give up. You’re likely to face that kind of decision many times in your life, but it can be an especially difficult one when you’re changing course, or trying something new.

Just tell those cynics…well…on second thought, don’t tell them anything. Instead, ignore them, turn around, and walk away. Stay away from people like that. Seriously. The world has way more than enough, you don’t need that kind of influence in your life. Surround yourself with people who believe in you, care about you, and root for your success. They also have to be ready and willing to speak truth into your life. That’s for your protection. But most importantly they must have your back.

Make the decision. Turn away from, ignore, and remove the cynicism from your life. Then, get started. DO IT NOW!

 

“ADRIAN!”

 

In between watching more than my fair share of Hallmark Channel Christmas movies (simply because I love my wife), I happened upon a classic movie, and it brought tears to my eyes. What movie you ask? Rocky. Yes. Rocky. The first Rocky movie is one of my favorite movies of all time, and I don’t mind admitting that it brought me to tears as I watched roughly the last 40 minutes.

Assuredly, you are probably struggling to understand how this movie could induce a teary effect. I mean, it is a man’s man type of movie with lots of action, physical aggression, blood, sweat, etc. So, what’s the deal with the tears?

Well, for me, it all has to do with the deep connection of two souls. Critics will tell you that the movie is overly dramatic, and even cheesy as it tries to pull the viewer into the story, but I find it eerily believable. Rocky Balboa begins to doubt himself on the eve of the biggest fight of his life with the world champion, Apollo Creed. After walking the streets and visiting the arena where the fight will take place, he tells his girlfriend, Adrian, that he can’t do it. He knows he can’t beat Apollo, and he’s bearing his soul at this moment with Adrian. She reminds Rocky of how hard he has worked to get ready for this fight. She has had a front row seat, and she is reminding him that she is in this with him.

Rocky goes on to fight, and he fights valiantly. He is grossly outmatched by the much better boxer, and his body pays the price…but he fights until the last bell. He gives as much punishment as he takes, proves to himself that he can stand toe-to-toe with the champion, and holds his own. As a matter of fact, he nearly wins the fight.

The camera cuts back and forth between this epic battle in the ring and Adrian’s face as she watches. The connection between this man and woman who care about each other so deeply is unmistakably evident in her eyes. It’s as if she feels every blow that lands on Rocky’s head. His pain is her pain, and after the fight is over, his exuberance is hers as well.

With microphones shoved in his face, and reporters trying to get a comment, Rocky simply yells, “ADRIAN” over and over. Then we see Adrian yelling Rocky’s name as she pushes her way through the crowd and sneaks into the ring. Rocky’s face is mangled, and he probably can’t see Adrian out of his eyes that are swollen shut…but they find each other and embrace as if nobody else is around. It’s a magical scene.

Picturing that scene in my mind right now brings the same swell of emotion. These two shared their dreams, fears, failures, struggles, and accomplishments with each other. Rocky had a desire to compete for the championship, and Adrian walked each step of the way with him. They had a connection on a very deep level, and that is what shows through what some call a cheesy, over-acted classic movie.

What do I take from this as a Christian, a husband, a father, and a pastor? Honestly, there are many lessons I think could be shared. But for me, what stands out is the challenge to live deeply and passionately. I am challenged to find something worth going after, share it with my wife, and strive together to achieve it with everything I have. It’s a challenge to live life with purpose, making all decisions based on how it will affect the ultimate goal, and moving forward with confidence.

Too often, people find themselves relegated to and settling for the only life they think is attainable, and there they just exist. Going to work, coming home to dinner, and some sort of entertainment before falling into bed…just to do it all over again the next day. Most times there is little passion, few dreams, and no thought of achieving something greater.

Husbands and wives don’t talk about the deep things of their hearts. Parents and children go to separate rooms for the night, with little to no communication. Homes all over the world are filled with people who have settled into “the way things are” and they are happy to live out their days catching up on their latest favorite show.

I believe that living is much more than existing, and it is a conviction on my soul to think that I have taken the great blessings God has bestowed upon my life and neglected them as I simply exist. He has a greater plan for his children than that. God tells us that we can do all things through him according to his strength in our lives (Philippians 4:13). What a waste to have that kind of power and strength on our lives…and then not really live. May we all strive to live big for his honor and glory.

Yes. I was moved in my spirit thusly, and all from catching the end of Rocky. If you haven’t seen it, give it a try. You might end up inspired.